One of the books that has profoundly shaped the way I think & the way I view the world is this one: Thee, Hannah by Marguerite De Angeli. Yes, it is a kiddies book. There is nothing complicated or difficult about it in the least. The story line is very basic. Even the illustrations, which I loved as a child, are rather two dimensional & flat but... it is a profound but. The questions this little book raise are some of the ones that still plague me today.
There is the outward journey & people who have shared along the way may turn to you with utmost surprise & say, "But it wasn't like that at all!" That is to deny the inward & parallel journey which may be very different indeed. Thee, Hannah is part of my inward journey. Here I first met the idea of personally connecting with God, as opposed to a minister interceding. [Not what my mother's church taught but no~one I knew talked about listening to God. They talked about prayer & what to say to God but not how to listen, not how to hear, not how to know if it was God at all.] Here I first ran into the idea that to be distinctive might serve a greater purpose than eccentricity of being. Here I ran into the idea that non~violence did not equate with passivity.
So here is Hannah, youngest child in a large Quaker family who hankers after the things of the world: the pretty dresses, the fancy pantaloons & most of all the pretty, fashionable bonnets. She hates her plain Quaker bonnet. Don't misunderstand. I get Hannah completely on this one. An uglier contraption for the head I have rarely met!
Now the Quaker bonnet served multiple purposes. It acted as a covering at a time when most women still covered their heads, & certainly in public. It served to distinguish Quakers from non~Quakers. It was a public rebuke against worldliness & vanity. It let others know that one held to certain basic principles. It also told runaway slaves that here was a person who would help. It is in helping a runaway slave that Hannah learns the deeper meaning & purpose of her plain, ugly bonnet.
But here's the thing: there has been a steady movement within the church body to make itself more accessible to the world by aligning itself with the world. It has not made itself more accessible. It has simply blurred the lines until it is impossible to tell who is a Christian & who is not by simply looking. And we have done this despite what scripture says: Come out from among them : be not yoked unequally with unbelievers [yes, I know most people interpret it as to do with marriage but think about it...] ; a peculiar people...hordes of scriptures talk about Christians are to be different, to stand out from the culture around them, to hold to different [Godly] standards, to be salt & light to the world around them. They are meant to be distinctive.
Now you may think it doesn't really matter ~ & perhaps it doesn't ~ but consider this. When the Amish shootings took place in 2006 the world watched in awe the Amish response to their tragedy. No one was in any doubt that this was a Christian community. Nor was any one left in doubt that their act of forgiveness arose from their Christian beliefs. No~one was preaching anything. They simply were. Or there is the testimony of Skeet Savage ~ Founder of Wisdom's Gate, who talks of being threatened late at night in a shopping mall by a gang of thugs, who desisted when one of the boys noticed their coverings & decided that "God would get them" if they hurt His people.
I'm not *dresses only*. For me, dresses are impractical & immodest. I do not necessarily think dress should be *Plain*. After all, God adores colour & pomp. Just look at how He outfitted the temple & garbed His priests! I understand that dress does not necessarily reflect a heart that is right with God. I still think the questions are worth asking. What does God require of me? For one it will be a cape dress & covering. For another, pants & tunic. And then there are the Christies of the world. About to approach a company director for an exorbitant amount of money she splurged on the prettiest, fanciest hat in the Milliner's shop window & won her cause!
Our dress says something very profound about who we are. I learnt this the hard way because I don't have a fashionable bone in my body & am perfectly content to paddle round in clothing I have owned for half a century. I rarely even look in a mirror so when I felt the Lord's leading to plonk a bit of cloth on my head [long story & nothing to do with submission to my husband, poor man] I was quite able to ignore how peculiar it looked with a salwar kameeze, or jeans & T. I never thought about it but it was there & reminded me of the thing I wore it for. However, you better bet others noticed & commented! Not to me. People were a little shy but they were bailing Liddy up in the shop going: "So what religion does your mother belong to?" Liddy took great delight in evangelizing to them! Now I have come to expect that the hurting of this world who would never set foot in church will approach me at the shops or on the jetty & pour out their grieving hearts to me. They feel free to ask the big questions: Do you believe in life after death? Do all religions lead to God? And sometimes they say rather wistfully, " I used to go to church, you know. I still read my bible..." Now I just have to remember to act in accordance with my calling!